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November 09, 2002

The Anatomy of Melancholy


Do you suffer regularly from melancholy? I do. Yes, I understand, millions of people are either a bit or seriously depressive, I should just be happy Iíve got the mild variety. But what is oddest about my mental landscape is my melancholy tends to set in when the dogs of external unquiet are barking the least. (I seem to adore crises, when Iím far more level-headed and level-hearted than when everything is rosy.) I mean, things are pretty good at work, Iíve got a good backlog of money-making ideas being executed capably by the staff, Iím getting along fabulously with my wife, my children are deeply rewarding, my dog has stopped chewing compulsively on his front paws, my home repairs of last winter seem to be holding up during the rains of the past few days, my dietís working, my list of physical defects seems to be holding steady, Iím having a good time blogging with youÖso whereís the fly in the ointment, so to speak? I wonder if the problem doesnít lie, at root, with the fact that Iím not being goaded into action, and I have to look my own profound inertia in the face. In other words, if I want my life to get better than it currently is, Iíve got to actually get up off my physical and metaphorical bottom and stir things upóon my own behalf. No, this is not my favorite sort of task.

Portrait of the Blogger as a Middle-Aged Grump

How do you handle this sort of thing? Iím getting too old for most of my usual remedies.

Cheers (sort of)


posted by Friedrich at November 9, 2002


And you seem like such a jolly soul!

I think you may just be a deeper creature than I am. My normal state, or at least the one I seem to return to on a regular basis, is cheerful and outgoing. My standard outlook, I think I can say, is "curious about things."

Then, just as I'm getting comfy with being cheerful and curious, it all gets blown apart by fear, or peevishness, or hilarity, or frustration. But curious-and-happy seems to be what I return to. Although the Wife will remind me, I'm sure, that I'm prone to wander off to the moutaintop from time to time, there to marinate in dreams of ruined glory. She doesn't let me stay up there for long, thank heavens.

I've only tried a mood booster once -- a few days on St. Johns Wort. It was too much for me. I felt like my head was full of cats who were scratching on the inside of my skull in their eagerness to get out. I gave up the St Johns Wort, and returned to being my usual cheerful if sometimes grumbly, shallow self.

Posted by: Michael on November 10, 2002 1:19 AM

May I add my 2 cents? There are many different ways to look at the cause of mild depression or melancholy-ish wanderings... melancholyishnish. But simply put, as you probably have heard, there is either a chemical cause or an emotional cause. Stir into this the fact that certain personality types are more prone to it than others. However, I would stick this in the "chemical" category.

I encourage you to find out which camp you fall into. I have an occasional bout with it myself... and recently found out that mine is largely in the emotional category. Something offensive happened to me as a child that I have only recently allowed myself to examine. (I know, so predictable.) Anyway, when you understand the basic cause, you will be better equipped to find effective appropriate solutions.

From your posting, it is not clear to me that you know what is fueling your melancholy. But maybe you just didn't get that specific. It's a good first step at any rate.

My hunch is that yours is emotional. You stated that it occurs when things are going smoothly. Emotional issues (masked in whatever- ie: melancholy) have been known to rise to the surface when life is secure. The natural equilibrium one's personality tends to keep won't allow this sort of unrest when things are chaotic.

SO- I'm all wet maybe? My only hold on credibility is being raised by a clinical psychologist... I know enough about all this stuff to be potentially ridiculous! Just tryin to help.

Posted by: Laurel on November 10, 2002 7:44 AM

perhaps your melancholy is existential which i think is the normal healthy adult state of mind. at my age [almost 50] even though things seem very ok at the moment i know this can change in an instant

melancholy is not really clinical depression, it's wisdom's little dog...

and you already know how to take care of a dog !

Posted by: petra on November 10, 2002 9:37 AM

I'm generally a happy person and I weather storms rather well but when things have been going well for a while I start having this nagging worry... a feeling that 'sooner or later something bad is going to happen.' It's not what I would call melancholy though.

Posted by: Lynn on November 10, 2002 5:10 PM

As I contemplate so many unfinished projects of mine, as the release of a new database that I adminster is occuring and ending the 15 hour workdays, I can guess your melancholy is similar.
The Urgent AND Important work is done. Now to the non-urgent and important, or the urgent and non-important.
Doing the non-important makes one feel less important. Doing the important, non-urgent work requires, as you mentioned, getting up and going for it.
Or, going for a good book! Again.
Like, maybe a weekend ripping through the Lord of the Rings? (The Fellowship, Friday till dawn; up at the crack of noon to start The Two Towers and in bed by midnight; finish The Return of the King by Sunday dinner.) I almost started Harry Potter last night, but it was already Sunday...

Posted by: Tom on November 11, 2002 6:00 AM

Sounds like the downside of long-standing habit, perhaps. Nothing really new to rally the spirit.

-Walk through a dark, unsafe urban area sometime after 10pm. Turn up your collar and look vaguely menacing.
-Locate a social spot dominated by people too young for you to have anything in common with. Observe for hours.
-Commit a misdemeanor offense in plain view of law enforcement. (OK, not a *good* suggestion, but the results are bound to change your outlook a bit)

You almost certainly won't get mugged, and who knows what you'll find?

Posted by: Euphrosyne on November 11, 2002 4:24 PM

I use to worry that, with age, I would find it harder and harder to find people willing to go out on stupid drunken sprees. Happily, I have learned that, although there are some lean years when only single artist friends are unburdened by children, children leave home and their parents are ready to be rowdy again.

This taps on the advice of observing feckless youth in their natural habitat, but gather up some trusted accomplices, get liquored up, and go to a batting cage or bizarre museums. If you are having one of those bad patches where you can't bear to be around humans, go camping with you dog.

Or maybe this kind of self-indulgence is only a cure for women, who get depressed because they build up resentment from spending half their lives taking care of other people.

But perhaps I'm not one to speak. I'm in week six of the worst funk of my life, which comes at a time when things are fine. Everyone who had a lingering illness has finally died, the poor relations are back on their feet, work is as it should be, and the horrible neighbor has moved away.

Posted by: Gert on November 11, 2002 8:21 PM

Would knowing you have one of the better blogs out there help?

Also, I use these three thoughts myself a lot:

"We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world." - Helen Keller

"God doesn't require us to succeed, He only asks that you try." - Mother Teresa

"Listen: We are here on Earth to fart around. Don't let anybody tell you any different." - Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

If that doesn't work, I listen to "Any Major Dude" by Steely Dan.

If that doesn't work, I listen to Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" whilst nursing the better part of a six pack. That almost always works. (Use this one in moderation.)

Posted by: Yahmdallah on November 12, 2002 1:48 PM

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